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Review: Allen & Heath GLD-80 Chrome Edition

Review: Allen & Heath GLD-80 Chrome Edition
Simon Allen

Live

30 July 2015: By Simon Allen

Simon Allen takes a look at one of the new-look consoles to see whether it offers more than just a bit of added ‘bling’.

Simon Allen takes a look at one of the company’s new-look consoles to see whether it offers more than just a bit of added ‘bling’.

Since the Allen & Heath GLD was released only a few years ago, it has held a very strong position in the market. It seems as though every arts centre or small to medium-sized theatre that I visit has an in-house GLD. This isn’t just down to price either; the GLD offers a lot for the money, flexibility and quality assurance that comes with this respected brand.

Although these are ultimately at the lower end of the market, it’s safe to say that it’s a pleasure to find them on a regular basis. This is mostly because they are compact versions of A&H’s mothership iLive system, with very similar audio processing and user interfaces.

A&H has continued to update the software and firmware for the GLD range, adding support for remote control, offline editing and other features we’ve come to expect from modern digital consoles. The latest release, (V1.5), brings some exciting additional features to the desk, and to mark this release they have given the desk a slight facelift. Gone are the purple-coloured sections, and upon the smart black finish are shiny chrome faders and rotary encoders. It’s a nice touch, but what about the rest of the new features? I’ve been using a new Chrome Edition GLD to find out.

Overview

It is important to note that owners of original GLD consoles can update their firmware to the latest version (1.5) for free. This contains all the features that now come as standard on any new GLD Chrome. The look of the desk is a celebration of the console’s success, and highlights a new chapter with this significant firmware upgrade.

The Allen & Heath GLD system is very compact with all the processing being handled by the surface, unlike the manufacturer’s iLive systems, where the stage racks house the processors. This allows the desk to be used as a standalone with limited I/O, or with quite a wide choice of stage boxes over Cat5 digital snakes.

These stage boxes have also been given a facelift, and are among the smartest and lightest stage boxes on the market. I believe the stage boxes have played a part in the GLD’s success story with installs, as it allows venues to distribute I/O points around their performing areas in convenient places.

With a selection of stage boxes, the GLD-80 can provide 48 input processing channels, eight stereo FX returns, 30 configurable busses and 20 mix processing channels. These FX returns, busses and mix channels can be user-configured to arrange the processing power for different roles such as FOH or monitors. The GLD-112 has the same level of processing power and maximum channel counts, but facilitates a larger footprint. The GLD-80 has 20 fader strips over four layers, while the GLD-112 has 28 fader strips, also over four layers.

Besides the GLDs offering a high specification, it is the user interface and flexibility of these desks that sets them apart from much of the competition in this area of the market. The channel strips can be placed anywhere on the console, which includes any channel type. This enables you to highly configure the desk for a fast and efficient workflow for any show or event. Colour coding also plays a key role in allowing the user to build their own mixer.

Every channel has all the default processing tools and routing options you would expect from any high-end modern digital console. The audio processing toolset has always been excellent, but that has now become even better with this update, as I found out. The single channel strip layout of hardware encoders for the preamp, EQ, dynamics and so on are well presented, but the touchscreen, along with an additional encoder for whichever parameter you have selected, is also surprisingly fast to work with. Menus are simple and most functions can be found reasonably quickly.

A&H also has a complete range of remote control accessories, and computer or tablet apps. Personal monitoring systems are available at a fraction of the cost of some third-party options, which don’t integrate as well. The tablet app is great for easily walking about the venue and still retaining some control of the desk, but the laptop/desktop application gives you complete control of the desk. The same computer app can also be used to create offline show files, which opens the desk to touring applications.

New Look, New Firmware

The shiny new Chrome additions have given the desk some modern ‘bling’, but this doesn’t detract from the professional workspace these desks have to offer. Some of the materials used feel a little ‘plastic’, but for the price and the high durability of the controls, this is easily excused.

A&HChromeEdition

One new feature which I wasn’t able to test this time round – I was using the desk in live sound scenarios and not conferences – is the AMM (Automatic Mic Mixer). This version of AMM can now work across 44 mic inputs. It has two modes: D-Classic dynamic gain sharing for a simple quick set-up and Number of Open Microphones (NOM) logic gate technology for a more intelligent auto mix.

The Chrome firmware update includes a plug-in architecture called ‘DEEP’ that allows users to quickly select from a number of different processing tools. There are two compressor models: the 16T and 16VU. These new compressors are found in each channel’s processing pages, where there are now six compressor models to choose from. They can be loaded even during a show and without eating into the virtual FX rack slots.

Other new firmware features include some more onboard effects, such as a stereo tap delay with independent left and right time base, and comprehensive Tap Tempo functions. There is also a ‘Bucket Brigade’ delay effect. This is an effect Allen & Heath has developed to sound like non-linear solid-state delay units. The name itself comes from a certain analogue delay line comprised of capacitors from the 1970s. The effect emulates the non-linearity and filtering characteristics you would expect from such devices, but with the benefits of the digital domain like delays up to 2.7s and selectable distortion parameters.

In Use

I’ve been using the new desk for some shows over the last few weeks, but the most in-depth opportunity was at a technically challenging dance and performing arts show. I installed a Dante card in the option slot of the surface and created a Dante network with a GB/s switch. This enabled me to use a multichannel playback system from one Pro Tools rig, and another Pro Tools rig for multichannel recording of the show, while still having a couple of stage boxes attached from the stage. I also installed a wireless router from the additional network port to give me wireless control from an iPad and laptop. The whole system worked flawlessly and was very reliable. The best part – set-up time at FOH was minimal with only a few Ethernet cables to worry about.

For me, this really sums up the whole GLD experience. Once you’ve understood the user interface, which doesn’t take long, you’re away. You’re able to create quite complex and professional set-ups effortlessly, and for a fraction of the cost. Everything behaves as you would want it to and the sound is great.

The preamps are clean, as you would expect from A&H, and the digital processing works well, allowing fine movements of EQ curves to be noticeable. The sound quality isn’t going to create something special, but it is very good. You have to keep reminding yourself the total price for a GLD package is only a fraction of some other systems.

The sonic output delivers and behaves exactly as you’d expect, I don’t think we can ask for much more than that so I was really pleased.

I love the new FX and compressors. I used the 16T compressor from the channel strips regularly, which graphically looks similar to a well-known pro-audio manufacturer. I found myself making great use of the 16T on vocals and potentially ended up with what ‘looked’ like worrying amounts of GR, which actually sounded great and enabled an easier mix. The choice of effects that are on board are plentiful to the extent that most engineers won’t need any additional outboard. The new delay effects are a great addition to the toy cupboard. I thought the stereo tap delay was easy to use and sounded great.

Conclusion

The Allen & Heath GLD-80 Chrome Edition is a well-equipped mixer that is flexible, reliable and falls in line with modern expectations. The sound from the desk is uncolored and clear, but importantly you get a strong feedback from any processing moves you make, making fine adjustment a pleasure. The sonics and features are excellent considering the very affordable price point. The new look is great, but the new firmware tools are a fantastic addition to a desk that was already a safe buy for many applications.

Simon Allen is a freelance internationally recognised sound engineer and pro audio professional with over a decade of experience. Working mostly in music, his reputation as a mix and FOH engineer continues to reach new heights.